Yesterday, a U.S. permanent resident and Lebanese businessman who was imprisoned for years in Iran was freed. Nizar Zakka is on his way back to his native Lebanon. The release comes as tensions between Iran and the United States remain high after the United States withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Zakka, an internet freedom advocate, lives in Washington and holds resident status in the United States. Zakka was arrested in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran. He had just attended a conference at the invitation of one of Iran’s vice presidents. Authorities accused Zakka of being an American spy and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Zakka arrived on a private plane accompanied by the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abbas, who had traveled to the Iranian capital to bring him home. Taken to the presidential palace, Zakka flashed reporters the victory sign and hugged his brother Ziad before heading into a meeting with Lebanon President Michel Aoun, who had personally requested his release.
Zakka is one of several prisoners held in Iran who have either dual nationality or links to the West. Lebanese and U.S. officials have for years asked for Zakka’s release. It is not clear why Iran decided to act now.
The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal required Iran to convert, redesign, and reduce its nuclear facilities. In exchange, the United States and other countries agreed to lift sanctions (financial penalties) on Iran. The United States re-imposed sanctions after accusing Iran of failing to keep its promises, a move that has caused friction among lawmakers and world leaders. .
U.S. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the White House is “thankful” for Zakka’s release—but wants to see other Americans detained in Iran released as well.
(Ziad Zakka, brother of Nizar Zakka, shows a photo of his brother on his cellular telephone in Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)